My days always involve an exchange like this:
Student: I can’t find the book I want on the shelves, do you know where it is.
Me: Ok, do you have the shelf mark?
Student: No, I don’t know that.
Me: The easiest way to find a book is to search the library catalogue.
Student: Yes I know that. Don’t you know where the book is? Which shelf is it on?
I could say that when I was a student it seemed obvious that the first thing you would do in a library if you wanted a particular book would be to check the catalogue. It isn’t something that we hammer home during induction but I’m starting to think we need to if students really don’t know the basics. Of course my counter argument for this is that I’m now a librarian so I obviously have a better aptitude and understanding of libraries than the average student.
Thankfully most of the time my excellent customer service skills means that these stupid queries do not faze me. I like to think I have the capability to handle most situations without making the reader feel patronised or stupid, because after all nobody likes a mean librarian. But sometimes (like tonight) I’m tired and worn down, so I’m not on top form to figure out what people want without them asking me.
Earlier a reader walked over and handed me two shelfslips, filled out with illegible details and without saying a word to me. I just looked blankly at the shelfslips and then blankly at the reader for a while. Then I simply said, I’m sorry I don’t understand what you want. Then the reader looked at me blankly. She read out the titles from the shelfslips and I asked her if she needed help finding the shelfmarks. It was only then that the reader decided to tell me that these were DPhil Thesis titles and that she would like me to collect them from the locked shelves where they are kept. Only problem now was that she hadn’t written down the shelfmark numbers for them and I was so flabbergasted that I couldn’t remember how to search our catalogue for them. In the end the reader got the volumes and I learnt a valuable lesson about how wrong things can go if you don’t keep those customer service skills finely tuned.
Readers don’t know what information we need to do our jobs so we have to own strategies for coaxing out the necessary details. Even if it is as basic as what on earth they are handing you a couple of filled out shelfslips for. Next time I’m going to try to remember to use some of mine a little bit more effectively as going round in circles is not fun.